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RECORD-COURIER STAFF REPORT
The potential upset of the Mid-American Conference season turned into yet another gut-wrenching near-miss for the Kent State men's basketball team.
The Golden Flashes rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to force overtime at MAC power Ohio, and led by one in the extra session before the Bobcats' seldom-used sophomore guard Stevie Taylor nailed an open 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining that lifted the Bobcats (18-6, 9-1 MAC) past Kent State (14-12, 5-7) 78-75 in front of 8,483 frenzied fans at The Convo.
Flashes sophomore point guard Kris Brewer had split free throws on consecutive possessions to give his team a 75-73 lead, forcing an Ohio timeout with 25 seconds left in overtime. Bobcats senior guard Walter Offutt received the ball near the free throw line, but nearly lost it, grabbing the ball from between his legs as KSU defenders lunged for it. He then found Taylor open on the right wing, and he drained the game-winner for his only points of the game in just seven minutes of action.
"One of our defenders fell and another of our guys thought he needed to help, (leaving Taylor open). Mistake on our part," said KSU head coach Rob Senderoff. "There was a timeout called, and we wanted to not leave our men or give up a 3. That happens. I'm sure there are plays they messed up."
With no timeouts left and trailing by one, Flashes senior guard Randal Holt tried to drive, but was met by a double-team near the free-throw line and lost the ball. Ohio junior guard Nick Kellogg actually did Kent State a favor by making a layup on the other end rather than dribble out the clock. Trailing by three with just under three seconds left, the Flashes inbounded quickly and actually wound up getting Holt a look at a potential game-tying 3-pointer from about 25 feet, but the shot was partially blocked by Kellogg and wound up well short.
So chalk this one up alongside previous heartbreakers to Ohio, Akron and Western Michigan -- games the Flashes either led or were tied in with around two minutes to go -- and a buzzer-beater at Northern Illinois, and you have a frustrating so-close-but-yet-so-far MAC campaigns for Kent State.
"These guys are an excellent team. They are great at home and they are very well coached. They've won 18 games. But we feel we can play with anyone," said Senderoff. "It's another one-possession loss. We played as well as they did for 44 minutes and 45 seconds. Sometimes that happens."
Senior guard Chris Evans produced his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, helping the Flashes outboard the Bobcats 43-30. Brewer went toe-to-toe with Bobcats star senior point guard D.J. Cooper, as Brewer finished with 14 points, five assists and two steals with five turnovers, while Cooper had 13 points, seven assists and four steals with five turnovers. Cooper fouled out moments before Taylor hit the game-winner.
Offutt led four OU players in double figures with 17 points, followed by Cooper with 13, Kellogg with 12 and senior forward Reggie Keely with 10.
Holt (8 points, 3-of-10 field goals) had a shot rim out in the final seconds that would have given Kent State the win in the first matchup of the season between the two teams in Kent. While everyone on hand remembers the miss, Senderoff believed his team's 20 turnovers actually cost them that game and gave the Flashes no chance in the rematch if that number was reached again.
Kent State finished Saturday's game with a season-high 22 turnovers, leading to 26 Ohio points. The Flashes also shot just 56 percent from the free-throw line (14-of-25).
A flurry of turnovers in the final six minutes of the first half helped Ohio close with a 15-3 run, turning a seven-point deficit into a 31-26 halftime lead. The miscues kept coming early in the second half, as the lead ballooned to 46-31 following a Kellogg layup off an Evans turnover with 15:25 left in regulation.
After a brief benching, Evans and Holt returned to lead a stunning comeback.
Trailing 61-50 with eight minutes to play in regulation, Evans hit a jumper to ignite a 12-0 run. Evans added a dunk and 3-pointer, Holt buried a 3, and junior forward Mark Henniger nailed a short jumper from the baseline that put Kent State up 62-61 with 5:42 left.
"The reason they were up on us was because we played selfish basketball in the first half," said KSU junior forward Darren Goodson, who finished with nine points. "We came back later in the second half and played better, and we were able to take it to overtime. But they were one possession better than us."
Brewer hit two free throws with 1:02 left to tie the game at 69. Kent State then had a chance to win in the closing seconds of regulation, but Henniger threw a pass toward Brewer some 25 feet from the basket after Brewer had made a cut, and the ball sailed into the stands. Cooper then nearly banked in a 3-pointer from halfcourt as regulation time expired.
Moments later, Taylor, who entered the contest averaging 3.0 points per game, reached that mark with his lethal shot from long range -- just his 16th 3-pointer of the season.
"Credit Stevie Taylor," said Senderoff. "He hit a big shot. I'm guessing it's the biggest shot of his career. Great shot by him. Great play by him. We are obviously disappointed, because we played hard enough to win. We just didn't play quite good enough to win."
After a week off, Kent State will travel to Loyola-Chicago on Saturday for the final game of the BracketBusters series.